Momentum is rising for Bethel School District to build a multi-million-dollar aquatic center.
Decisions still must be made on what the facility would include, how much can be spent and where the money would come from to build it. But supporters of a potential project are urging the district to test the water and eventually take the plunge.
Among organized supporters are members of a business group called 723 Networking, which focuses on projects in the Graham and Spanaway areas. Its leaders have encouraged business owners and the rest of the public to voice support of the pool proposal by contacting district officials and attending School Board meetings.
An online citizens’ petition, signed by more than 70 people, urges the board to approve construction of an aquatic center, which the petition states would “provide critical water-safety programs, additional sports-related activities and competitions for the schools and community. It will also create a positive business environment that will bring additional capital improvements, generate more business and increase tax flow in our local area. It will attract those interested in aquatic sports to come to our area, helping increase our home values. We believe this is a win-win situation for our district.”
District officials themselves have said the public can help make an aquatic center “a reality” by emphasizing to the board the “social, recreation and economic benefits” of such a facility, and by calling for state funding to help pay for its construction.
School Board members are showing interest. They spent Feb. 27 touring aquatic centers at Lynnwood Recreation Center in King County and Haselwood YMCA in Silverdale in Kitsap County to see how a similar facility in their area might look and operate.
Research and legwork such as that is part of a decisionmaking process that has no timeline yet, according to Bethel district officials.
An outline of possible features of an aquatic center, its construction cost and potential revenue from user fees was presented to the board Feb. 7 by Rob Van Slyke, the district’s executive director of operations. Among the highlights:
• A tentative price tag of $18 million for building a 62,000 square-feet facility that would include a 50-meter competition pool and separate pools for diving, fitness programs, swim classes and warm-water therapy, and two water slides and other features for play and recreation. The building would also include sauna and steam rooms, concessions, two classrooms, a game room, and enough spectator seating for 1,000 people to watch competitions.
• $12 million for the construction tab would come from money left from a 2006 bond. The rest could come from grants and other and other sources to be determined. If there isn’t enough of the latter, the project could be scaled back or have parts of it postponed until full funding is available.
Regardless of the size of the project, “a significant multi-pool facility is feasible,” Van Slyke said.
Information he formally presented at a board meeting included projections of: break-even revenue and operating costs for a facility’s first year – about $2 million each, with revenue finishing slightly (approximately $900) ahead of expenses. Revenue could come from fees for swim lessons, facility rentals, concessions, events that charge admission or participation fees, and some form of memberships, officials said.
All costs, revenue and features so far are only estimates and proposals. Untl the board gives direction on what to build, the district won’t know if it has enough money for the project or needs to raise more, said Krista Carlson, a district spokeswoman.
The Bethel district has no pools for swimming lessons that would help make children and other community members safer around water, officials noted. Another shortcoming is that high school swim teams must practice and compete at pools outside the district. Eatonville and Puyallup are among the homes away from home.
Bethel district officials have said there appears to be a “major need” for an “aquatic campus,” given that the communities within the district are “vastly underserved in aquatic program opportunities.” Bethel’s facility would draw users from Graham, Spanaway, Roy, Parkland and some Puyallup and Tacoma areas that have a combined potential user base of approximately 100,000 people. That number is expected to reach 120,000 by 2025, according to the school district.
Officials also note that another reason for supporting the project is that aquatic centers elsewhere don’t seem to be a financial drain, but instead operate at or near a break-even basis.